About amyMRM

Senior Strategic Planner, travel and beer enthusiast

Four Loko teases a hard seltzer with almost triple the alcohol content of White Claw as booze makers battle to win over ‘bros’

Four Loko appears to be entering the battle to become the drink of choice for the modern “bro” with a new hard seltzer.

On Tuesday, Four Loko posted images on Twitter and Instagram showing a Four Loko seltzer labeled the “hardest seltzer in the universe,” with 14% alcohol by volume. For comparison, White Claw has an ABV of 5%.

“Hard Seltzers ran so we could fly,” the caption reads.

The hard-seltzer business is booming, with sales increasing by more than 200% over the past year, according to Nielsen. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the drink was the top-growing segment in the beer category.

Hard-seltzer-loving bros have been crucial to the beverage’s success, Business Insider’s Bethany Biron reported.

“Throw a dart at my fraternity composite, and you’ll find a guy who’s into hard seltzer,” a college junior and fraternity member told Biron.

White Claw — owned by the private company Mark Anthony, which also operates Mike’s Hard Lemonade — currently dominates, with about 50% of hard-seltzer market share. But other companies are eager to cash in on those seeking hard seltzer with higher ABVs, especially as younger drinkers ditch beer.

This week, Natural Light and PBR announced their own hard seltzers. Natural Light’s hard seltzer is 6% ABV, while PBR’s is 8% ABV.Four Loko seltzer’s 14% ABV would be the highest in the increasingly crowded market. Four Loko, owned by the Chicago alcoholic-beverage company Phusion Projects, did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for further information about the drink.

Why it’s Hot
Picking up on trends we talked about a few weeks ago, this hard seltzer business is somehow picking up even more steam, and getting more ridiculous.

Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone,.

Just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the “Directions” button and then navigate to “Walking,” then tap“Live View” which should appear near the bottom of the screen.

The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk — instead, in provides quick, easy and super-useful orientation by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Seems like a good use of AR for actual utility and building on existing ecosystem.

 

More beer + health trend: Anheuser-Busch’s craft brand, Golden Road Brewing, announces multi-year sponsorship of USA Swimming

USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport of swimming in America, U.S. Masters Swimming and Golden Road Brewing has announced a new multi-year partnership, marking the first-ever alcohol sponsorship for USA Swimming.

As part of the partnership, Golden Road will serve as co-presenting sponsor of VIP hospitality experiences at USA Swimming House and USA Swimming Live at next year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb. The brewery will also hold activation rights in the Toyota Aqua Zone and serve as presenting sponsor of the “Last Session Show” and the Golden Goggles red carpet show. In a unique extension, Golden Road will also implement an athlete support program that provides financial support to adult athletes, as well as industry exposure and professional training.

A former captain of the Yale University swim team, Gill co-founded the Los Angeles, California-based brewery in 2011 when she was just 25. In 2015, Anheuser-Busch bought Golden Road.

“My dream since I was a little girl was to spread the passion and excitement I felt for swimming with others. My second love, beer, happens to have the ability to bring fans together and add to the enjoyment of watching competition,” Gill said. “By chance meeting last summer at the Nationals, I realized USA Swimming’s leadership team had a big vision of taking the sport of swimming to new heights — so our teams have worked on a truly unique partnership to help drive excitement for fans and athletes leading into a major year for swimming on the global stage. I can’t wait to enjoy a Golden Road beer while watching my favorite swimmers compete for a spot in Tokyo next summer.”

Source: Craft Brewing Business

Why It’s Hot

Just last week we had a post on “Performance Beer” and discussed how beer + healthy lifestyle coming together is a trend. Here is further support of that.

 

How Unpredictable Is Your Subway Commute?

Recently published in NYTimes, this article is a great example of useful data visualization and interactive content.

While the key point is about the factor of variability as an overlooked aspect of commuting data (NYC as particularly guilty of a lot more variability than other cities), I thought the best part was the way they used data to tell a customized story while reporting on the variability aspect.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot: 

Great use of data visualization and personalized content

Can ‘Big Data’ Help Fight Big Fires? Firefighters Are Betting on It

As out-of-control wildfires in the West grow more frequent and more intense, fire departments in Southern California are looking to big data and artificial intelligence to enhance the way they respond to these disasters.

The marriage of computing, brawn and speed, they hope, may help save lives.

For about 18 months the Los Angeles fire department has been testing a program developed by the WiFire Lab at the San Diego Supercomputer Center that makes fast predictions about where active fires will spread next. The program, known as FireMap, pulls together real-time information about topography, flammable materials and weather conditions, among other variables, from giant government data sets and on-the-ground sensors.

When firefighters across the city are dispatched to respond to brush fires, the department’s leaders at headquarters now run the WiFire program as part of their initial protocol. Then, WiFire’s servers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center in La Jolla crunch the numbers, and the program turns out a predictive map of the fire’s expected trajectory. Those maps can then be transmitted electronically from headquarters to incident commanders on the ground.

The program can make sophisticated calculations in minutes that would take hours to run manually, said Ilkay Altintas, the chief data science officer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot

Good example of data being put to life-saving use.

Purina Street Campaign Tests Dogs’ Urine To Assess Health

Pet product brand Purina knows how much pet owners love their furry friends, and wants to encourage routine vet visits. Accordingly, its latest campaign in France involves an outdoor billboard that can check a dog’s health via its urine.

Special billboards use pheromones to attract dogs to urinate on them, and then will run the sample through several tests to tell the owner the results. The tests look specifically for four common problems— diabetes, kidney issues, urinary infection or cholesterol. The results even recommend a particular Purina diet or to take the dog to the vet’s office for a checkup.

The goal is not just to make sure people’s pets are healthy, but also to encourage customers to associate Purina with health and wellness for their pups. “Purina’s objective is to provide simple and efficient solutions to improve the wellness of our pets. We wanted to raise awareness on the importance of veterinary checkups, but also to offer a solution that fits in the daily lives of pet owners—the daily walk on the street or in the park,” Véronique Herman, marketing manager specialist at Nestlé Purina Pet Care, says in a statement.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot: 

A good way to show a brand’s dedication a a broader cause for it’s audience, as well as execute on more innovation OOH marketing.

 

Uber now lets you pay for rides and food via Venmo

Uber has teamed up with PayPal-owned Venmo to let people pay for rides and food via UberEATS with the funds in their Venmo account. According to the companies, more than six million payments mentioned Uber in the last year. The integration will also enable people to easily split the cost of food orders and rides with friends within the Uber app.

“Adding Venmo as a way to pay within Uber and Uber Eats furthers our mission to provide a seamless way to pay for the services that matter most to our customers,” PayPal COO Bill Ready said in a statement.

For Uber, this partnership is a way to further differentiate itself from its U.S. rival Lyft. Though, this is not an exclusive partnership, so Venmo could also team up with Lyft for payments. For Venmo, this is a way for the service to become more ubiquitous as it faces competition from Zelle, a bank-backed mobile payments service that’s on track to outpace Venmo in number of users sometime this year.

Within the Uber app, once you select Venmo as a payment option, you get directed to the Venmo app.

The integration will officially go live in “the coming weeks.”

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Integration all over the place!

Amazon to Buy Online Pharmacy PillPack, Jumping Into the Drug Business

Amazon announced Thursday that it would acquire PillPack, an online pharmacy with a nationwide reach, in a deal that could quickly make the online giant a major player in the drug business.

The deal is precisely the kind of news that the health care industry has been fearing for months, as Amazon hinted that it was interested in expanding its reach to include prescription drugs, a $560 billion business.

One barrier to entry for Amazon had been the bureaucratic hassle of securing pharmacy licenses in each state. But in acquiring PillPack, it is essentially leaping over that hurdle because the company is licensed to ship prescriptions in 50 states.

Anxiety over what Amazon might do in health care has unsettled the industry and has been seen as one factor in a wave of recently proposed mergers, including CVS’s acquisition of Aetna and a union between the health insurer Cigna and Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefit manager. Last fall, perhaps in a move to get ahead of Amazon, CVS announced it would offer next-day delivery of prescription drugs and same-day service in some big cities.

The entry of Amazon into the pharmacy business could make it easier for the big pharmacy benefit mangers to persuade the Justice Department that their contemplated mergers with insurance companies will not harm consumers by hindering competition.

PillPack, which started in 2013, is an online pharmacy that distributes its pills in easy-to-use packages designed for consumers with chronic conditions and multiple prescriptions. The company sorts prescriptions by the dose and includes a label with a picture of each pill and notes on how it should be taken. It has long been seen as a potential target for larger businesses looking to expand their reach in online drug sales, including Amazon and Walmart.

While innovative, it is not necessarily a major player in the pharmacy world, bringing in about $100 million in revenue in 2017, according to the company.

Free Power From Freeways? China Is Testing Roads Paved With Solar Panels

The experiment is the latest sign of China’s desire to innovate in, and dominate, the increasingly lucrative and strategically important market for renewable energy. The country already produces three-quarters of the solar panels sold globally, and its wind-turbine manufacturing industry is also among the world’s largest.

The potential appeal of solar roads — modified solar panels that are installed in place of asphalt — is clear. Generating electricity from highways and streets, rather than in fields and deserts packed with solar panels, could conserve a lot of land. Those advantages are particularly important in a place like China, a heavily populated country where demand for energy has risen rapidly.

Because roads run through and around cities, the electricity could be used practically next door to where it is generated. That means virtually no power would be lost in transmission, as can happen with projects in outlying locations. And the land is essentially free, because roads are needed anyway. Roads must be resurfaced every few years at great cost, so the installation of durable solar panels could reduce the price of maintenance.

Solar roads could also change the driving experience. Electric heating strips can melt snow that falls on them. Light-emitting diodes embedded in the surface can provide illuminated signage to direct drivers to exits and alert them to construction and other traffic hazards.

Emirates moves toward windowless planes, starts with first-class seats

Emirates president Tim Clark has been talking about virtual windows in an interview with the BBC.

And no, this isn’t just some wacky concept outlined in a recently granted patent. The first virtual windows are already here, in the first-class cabin of Emirates’ newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

Clark said external fiber-optic cameras stream images to the virtual windows, apparently offering high-quality images that are actually superior to what you see when looking through a regular aircraft window.

The Emirates president said there was “absolutely no reason” why we can’t have passenger planes fully kitted out with virtual windows in the near future. Windowless cabins would give the aircraft more structural integrity while making it lighter, allowing for faster flights and improved fuel efficiency, Clark said.

But as the BBC points out, the design could prompt safety concerns. For example, in an emergency situation like a fire, cabin crew need to be able to see outside the aircraft to assess the situation before initiating evacuation procedures. If the plane’s power systems fail, that could result in the displays shutting down, leaving crew and passengers stuck inside a truly windowless, and possibly dark, aircraft.

When asked about this apparent obstacle, the European Aviation Safety Agency said it didn’t see “any specific challenge that could not be overcome” with the use of virtual windows inside passenger planes.

While some first-class Emirates passengers already have the chance to try out the virtual windows, it’s likely to be a while before an entirely windowless aircraft — one looking a lot like a cargo plane from the outside — takes off with hundreds of passengers inside.

The technology brings to mind an idea put forward by Airbus several years ago for windowless cockpits. The aircraft manufacturer suggested in a patent — one which you may or may not wish to describe as “wacky” — that it would be beneficial to move the cockpit to the back of the plane. It said that having it at the front reduces the aircraft’s aerodynamic qualities because of the complex shape and structure required to house it. The heaviness of the reinforced windows also adds to the aircraft’s overall weight, reducing its fuel efficiency.

As with Emirates’ design, on-board cameras would feed real-time video and pre-stored data to displays in the cockpit, providing pilots with all the visual information they need.

Source: Digital Trends

Why It’s Hot

While possibly more pleasant for travelers AND efficient for air travel, could this also be an additional engagement opportunity for brands? Or an educational opportunity for travels?

Jetblack Could Change Walmart Shopper Stereotypes

Walmart’s tech incubator is out with its first experiment. The incubator, known as Store No. 8, just launched Jetblack, a concierge-style service for requesting stuff and getting it really quickly.

To shop with Jetblack, first you need an invite. Right now the service is limited to some customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are part of an eight-month pilot program restricted to buildings with a doorman, though that will soon expand and a waitlist is available now. The service is $50 a month — considerably less than some adjacent competitors, while considerably more than Amazon Prime — and promises same-day delivery.

Jetblack is focusing on “time-strapped urban parents” seeking “more efficient ways to shop for themselves and their families.” To request something, Jetblack members send a text message and will receive product recommendations sent back in text. Those recommendations are culled from Walmart and Jet.com but also from specialty retailers locally.

That means any product request is fair game and “sourcing a specific beauty cream from a member’s favorite local boutique, curating custom Easter baskets and delivering them once the kids are asleep and rushing beach essentials to a family on vacation” are all within the realm of Jetblack fulfillments.

“Consumers are looking for more efficient ways to shop for themselves and their families without having to compromise on product quality,” said Jetblack co-founder and CEO Jenny Fleiss, formerly of Rent the Runway.

“With Jetblack, we have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalogue.”

Sources: eMarketer Retail  TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

In retail and e-commerce, competition is hot around convenience. The pilot is interesting because (1) New Yorkers have opposed Walmart retail spaces in the past and (2) New Yorkers are already getting the best of same-day shipping/delivery in so many areas — so they expect it/are used to it — so they need it, but will they care about Walmart’s offering?

 

Beer Vending Machine Uses Blockchain To Verify Age Before Dispensing Cans

Blockchain startup Civic found a creative way to show off the technology—and facilitate alcohol sales. At the fourth annual CoinDesk Consensus summit from May 14 to 16, Civic introduced a vending machine that users can grab a beer from free of charge, provided they have the Civic app handy on their phones to confirm via blockchain that they’re of legal drinking age.

You anonymously verify your age via the app to get your hoppy goodness sans human intermediary.

The idea is a one-off partnership with Anheuser-Busch, though it could be the start of additional measures in which blockchain-based technology is used to “facilitate on-demand, secure, low-cost access to identity-verification services,” as Civic’s website notes. That’s the calling card of the San Francisco-based company, which launched in 2016. Titus Capilnean, the communications and marketing director at Civic, told CoinDesk that unmanned access to casinos is another potential area where blockchain technology could come in handy. For now, though, Civic is content with giving out beers to test its prototype.

In action on Twitter

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot: Can I get closer to understanding what blockchain is if it’s connected to beer?

Undetectable Commands for Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa Raise Serious Security Risks

Researchers in the U.S. and China have discovered ways to send hidden commands to digital assistants—including Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant—that could have massive security implications.

Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doorswire money or buy stuff online — simply with music playing over the radio.

This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

“My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do,” said Nicholas Carlini, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in computer security at U.C. Berkeley and one of the paper’s authors.

Last year, researchers at Princeton University and China’s Zhejiang University also found voice-activated devices could be issued orders using inaudible frequencies. Chinese researchers called the technique DolphinAttack.

 

Amazon told The New York Times it has taken steps to ensure its speaker is secure. Google said its platform has features that mitigate such commands. And Apple noted an iPhone or iPad must be unlocked before Siri will open an app.

Still, there are several examples of companies taking advantage of weaknesses in the devices, from Burger King’s Google Home commercial to South Park‘s stunt with Alexa.

And the number of devices in consumers’ homes is on the rise. Digital assistants have been among the hottest gifts of the past two holiday seasons. And Amazon, alone, is expected to sell $10 billion worth of the devices by 2020.

Source: NY Times and Fortune

Why It’s Hot

It seems like every week we are posting something else about Voice (Alexa, Google Home) and emerging capabilities or how brands are using them. As with any tech, there are concerns about how it will be used. I do wonder though if there’s something positive here, versus scary?

Amazon is taking a photo of your front door to show you where your package is

Amazon is delivering more than just your packages these days — it is also delivering photos. As part of the company’s efforts to make it even easier for you to receive your online orders, Amazon has taken to taking photos of your doorway to show exactly where your packages are being deposited. This will hopefully cut down on customer confusion, and also serves as photographic evidence of the successful delivery of your precious cargo.Amazon’s new picture-taking practice might also allow delivery folks to leave packages in more inconspicuous spots, like behind a bush or in a flower pot, as USA Today notes. Given the rise in package stealers, having a safe and somewhat surprising place to put your packages may not be such a bad idea and being able to document where that place is makes things easier.The new service is called Amazon Logistics Photo on Delivery and according to a company spokesperson, is “one of many delivery innovations we’re working on to improve convenience for customers.” Amazon Logistics in and of itself is one of those delivery innovations — it’s an Amazon-owned delivery network that is completely separate from other delivery services like FedEx or UPS. And while the Photo on Delivery program has been rolling out in batches for the last six months, it’s becoming more widespread. Now, folks who receive packages in the Seattle, San Francisco, and northern Virginia metro areas will likely be receiving photographic notifications of their delivery’s safe arrival.

 Of course, if the thought of someone taking a photo of your property doesn’t really sit all that well with you, don’t worry — Amazon is giving you a way to opt out of the feature, too. Simply head over to the Amazon website and navigate to the help and customer service tab. From there, you should be able to tell Amazon folks not to take an unapproved photo (assuming the photo-taking option is even available to you). But if you’re interested in seeing exactly where your packages are at the end of the day, Photo on Delivery may be the feature you have been waiting for.
Why Its Hot
Could this be data collection disguised as innovation? Or a way to cut down on false claims of lost packages and package stealing? In any case, I have always wanted my packages to be more inconspicuously placed and now they can be. Plus, why not gameify it? “Alexa, where’s my package”?

HBO will host an interactive ‘Westworld’ park at this year’s SXSW

HBO has quite the plan to celebrate Westworld at the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, in March. The network announced February 21 that it is building an actual park based on the show that will be open to visitors from March 9 to March 11. The park is more than two acres in size, and it will feature locations like the Coronado hotel and the Mariposa Saloon. There will even be actors playing “hosts” that visitors can interact with throughout their visit.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the entire experience is the fact that it offers season 2 clues. Visitors will be able to look for them as they go through the different parts of the park, and they will be able to try to uncover others in their conversations with hosts. Let’s hope they share whatever they discover.

The experience lasts about two hours, and keeping with the theme, visitors will be taken to and from the site in a Delos shuttle. There is, unfortunately, a limited number of slots available. HBO made half of them available online at the website DiscoverWestworld.com, and they filled up quickly. However, more will open up during SXSW.
Why It’s HotAwesome show, tired tradeshow. What is big time experiential is the next way in?

 

Amazon appeals to my furbaby emotions

This week I received an email from Amazon:

Well, ok!

Why It’s Hot

The value proposition is relevancy and savings — I’ll get coupons for exactly what my pets need. But there’s also an emotional element to being able to create profiles for my babies! I think they’ve displayed an understanding of target audiences — ie pet owners — in a way that is uniquely possible with Amazon’s data engine. I assume it will get smarter over time as I search and purchase and use coupons. This could actually be enough to get me moving my pet purchases from Chewy.com to Amazon if the value is high enough.

Google Flights will now predict airline delays – before the airlines do

Google is rolling out a few new features to its Google Flights search engine to help travelers tackle some of the more frustrating aspects of air travel – delays and the complexities of the cheaper, Basic Economy fares. Google Flights will take advantage of its understanding of historical data and its machine learning algorithms to predict delays that haven’t yet been flagged by airlines themselves.

Explains Google, the combination of data and A.I. technologies means it can predict some delays in advance of any sort of official confirmation. Google says that it won’t actually flag these in the app until it’s at least 80 percent confident in the prediction, though.

It will also provide reasons for the delays, like weather or an aircraft arriving late.

You can track the status of your flight by searching for your flight number or the airline and flight route, notes Google. The delay information will then appear in the search results.

The other new feature added aims to help travelers make sense of what Basic Economy fares include and exclude with their ticket price.Google Flights will now display the restrictions associated with these fares – like restrictions on using overhead space or the ability to select a seat, as well as the fare’s additional baggage fees. It’s initially doing so for American, Delta and United flights worldwide.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Great example of using AI and predictive methods to drive better customer experience, and combat an industry that is less-than-transparent usually. It makes Google’s search solutions more desired and solidifies it as THE place to search everything. Would like to see if the alerts could get actionable, though, as right now they are more anxiety-creators.

 

Yes, They’ve Cloned Monkeys in China. That Doesn’t Mean You’re Next.

Researchers in China reported on Wednesday that they have created two cloned monkeys, the first time that primates have been cloned with the technique that produced Dolly the sheep more than 20 years ago.

The long-tailed macaques, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, were made from fetal cells grown in a petri dish. The clones are identical twins and carry the DNA of the monkey fetus that originally provided the cells, according to a study published in the journal Cell. They were born at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

“It’s the first primate ever to be cloned,” said Dr. Leonard Zon, director of the stem cell program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We are closer to humans than we’ve ever been before.”

“That raises questions of where we would want to go,” he added.

The genes of cloned monkeys could be manipulated before the process begins, yielding animals that have edited genes in every cell of their bodies, the researchers suggested. This might allow scientists to probe the genes’ functions and to test experimental drugs on monkeys custom-made to have various genetic conditions

“There are a lot of questions about primate biology that can be studied by having this additional model,” lead researcher Sun Qiang, director of the Non-human Primate Facility at ION, said in a statement.

“This will generate real models,” he continued. “Not just for genetically based brain diseases, but also cancer [and] immune or metabolic disorders, and allow us to test the efficacy of the drugs for these conditions before clinical use.”

Source: New York Times, Geek.com

Why It’s Hot

Man, these two are cute. There’s a really positive outlook for healthcare by taking these methodologies and applying them to human medicine

Amazon’s Alexa may eventually serve up ads…maybe, maybe not?

It was only a matter of time, folks.

According to a report from CNBC, Amazon is in talks with brands and advertisers to include ads on the Echo through via Alexa. The report says that Amazon is discussing these opportunities with Procter & Gamble and Clorox.

Just as ads found their way to the newspaper, the radio, the television, the internet, and even to our inbox and inside our apps, it only makes sense for advertisers to follow us to the next frontier of voice-powered AI.

There are two obvious paths to potentially advertising on Alexa.

The first is to let brands pay for placement when users are shopping through Alexa. For example, Proctor & Gamble could pay for Bounty to be the first brand recommended when a user asks for Alexa to purchase paper towels. Of course, these ads could be ultra-smart given the data Amazon already has about each individual user’s buying history.

The second channel for advertising could come via Alexa Skills. For example, a skill that tells users movie showtimes could suggest buying tickets through Fandango.

Paid search ads via voice could be much more effective than the paid search ads you see on the web, as with Google. On the web, many have grown numb to ad search results and can easily scroll past them to real search results. On a voice platform, it takes far more work to ‘scroll past’ the first result presented. Plus, depending on how Amazon presents paid results, it may be more difficult to decipher paid results from actual results.

Amazon, however, responded to CNBC saying that “the company has no plans to add advertisements to Alexa.” Obviously, this is just a rumor at the moment but it would be far from shocking if ads hit the Alexa platform. An Amazon spokesperson responded to request for comment with the same quote they gave CNBC: “There are no plan to add advertising to Alexa.”

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Regardless of whether this is real news now or not, it’s still interesting to consider and potentially inevitable. Brands are bound to want in on this expanding space — can the Amazons and Google’s of the world hold them back? Should they?

Google’s Moving Year in Search Video Shows How We Got Through the Hell of 2017

The search giant’s recap of 2017 includes footage of wildfires, hurricanes, gun violence, threats of nuclear war, protests and so much more—pretty much 2017 in a nutshell. Yet, Google managed to make all this uplifting.

Using Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times,” Google’s video shows the perseverance of the human spirit and may even inspire you to make a difference for the people still reeling from the various tragedies we’ve seen this year. It also manages to provide comfort with a “you’re not alone” vibe, reminding you that others are feeling that sense of powerlessness and existential dread, too—and that if we come together, we can let those feelings drive us to change the world.

Google also gathered some of the year’s top searches, and some of them are a real punch to the gut. see more here

Source: AdWeek

Why It’s Hot

Search data provides deep insight into how we operate as a culture.

 

GM brings Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks Ordering to Cars

General Motors is launching a new in-vehicle app named Marketplace that will allow drivers to pay for goods such as gasoline or coffee and schedule service through their infotainment systems.

The automaker expects the free technology, which it is calling an industry first, to quickly expand from about a dozen offerings, such as ordering Dunkin’ Donuts or reserving a table at TGI Fridays, to other services such as Starbucks orders and dealership services, including oil changes.

“We are using it also to improve how our customers interact with the vehicle and the dealership network,” says Santiago Chamorro, GM vice president of global connected customer experience. He emphasized the connections are secure, and Marketplace is not meant to be an in-vehicle digital billboard.

In-vehicle marketplaces and app-based services have been discussed for years. Offerings such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirror smartphone apps onto the vehicle’s infotainment screens but do not complete financial transactions.

Some services such as ordering Dunkin’ Donuts for pick up require drivers to have an account or profile with the store. Marketplace uses recent and favorite foods and settings from the profiles to customize the offerings for the driver. Deals and membership rewards are currently available from gas stations. Paying for gasoline is expected to be available early next year.

Dealership services such as scheduling oil changes or other maintenance are expected to be added as early as next year. Vehicles will have the capability to alert drivers of needed services and schedule them, if the driver would like.

Other current partners with Marketplace include Wingstop, Shell, ExxonMobil, Priceline.com, Parkopedia, Applebee’s, IHOP and Delivery.com. Starbucks is expected to be added in early 2018.

According to Consumer Reports, though, “The bad news is that in its current state, there’s not much reward for drivers to actually use it—though the automaker promises that will change soon as it adds more options and retail partners….Ultimately, instead of opening up an e-commerce gateway, GM Marketplace acts more like a middleman with limited options, at least in its current state.”

Source: AdAge

Why It’s Hot:
Automotive innovation is not only about self-driving technology, but about retail and the new consumer expectations brands need to meet. The opportunity for e-commerce to be at your fingertips even while driving may open up more geo-fenced, trackable marketing opportunities.

Google’s Express Service Lets Shoppers Place Orders From Costco Without Membership

Stealing your family and friend’s membership cards is now no longer the only way to shop at Costco without a membership. The members-only wholesale retailer has recently partnered with Google’s shopping service, Google Express, to make some of its products available online in select locations where the Express service operates.

While there will be none of the delicious free samples Costco is known for, online shoppers can still purchase many of the retailer’s most popular items, including in-house brands like Kirkland. The service also features items from other major retailers, including Walmart and Target. Shoppers simply place their orders through the Google Express website, app, or Google Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home. Orders are then shipped directly to the customer’s home, and if they spend over a certain minimum, Google will waive the shipping fee entirely.

The only catch is that non-Costco members who make orders through Google Express must pay a $10 “access fee” to purchase Costco products, though this doesn’t apply for Costco members. The service is also only available in select locations, as shoppers in 10 states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming cannot order without a Costco membership at all.

Source: PSFK

Retail brands are scrambling to provide better experiences for customers — via tech, via access, via personalization and more.

By partnering with major retail players like Costco, Walmart and Target, it places Google in a better position to challenge Amazon, which is currently in the process of expanding its footprint into physical retail spaces, namely through its acquisition of Whole Foods earlier this year.

Amazon Is Using AR To Help People See Before They Buy

Amazon joins the augmented reality scene with a feature on their application called AR view. This allows customers to virtually view how an item would look in their home prior to their purchase.

When a customer gets on the Amazon application they access the feature through the small camera icon located at the top right of the screen, and then choose the AR view option. From there, they can locate thousands of products to virtually place into their home to see how they would look. The customer viewing the item can rotate it around in a 360 degree fashion to see how it would look from multiple different angles in their home. This feature was announced alongside Amazon opening their Black Friday Deals Store.

The feature comes exclusively to Amazon application users who have an iPhone with the iOS 11 update. Amazon plans to make the feature available for Android phones sometime in the future.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

Expanded application to something IKEA offered years ago!

Honda Turns Fans’ Garages Into Pop-Up Dealerships

Car manufacturer Honda decided to address the shortage of dealerships in France by taking a slightly different approach to selling vehicles, relying on the experience and passion of its fans to present and test their 2017 range of SUVs. For the ‘Honda Next Door’ campaign by Sid Lee Paris, loyal Honda owners had their garages transformed into pop-up dealerships.

Honda chose to give its fans this unique opportunity because it believes they are the company’s best ambassadors. Those who wanted to check out the CR-V and HR-V could sign up online for a test drive and go to one of the eight pop-up dealerships in France.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot:

It’s so frequent that brands try to tap into fans digitally, but turning it into something else entirely is note worthy. It’s also a creative solve to a logistics problem!

 

Uber introduces a credit card

Uber is getting into the credit card business.

Announced Wednesday in partnership with Barclays and Visa at the Money2020 conference in Las Vegas, the new card gives Uber yet another point of access to incredibly valuable customer information and marks another front in its campaign to assume a larger role in online and offline commerce.

Not content with just having a record of some of the comings and goings of the at least 10 million people that use the company’s ride-hailing service every day, Uber will now get a record of some of those folks’ daily purchases through the new card.

Starting November 2, Uber will give users the option to get the card right in its app, and will populate all of the information they have on file for their customers into the application.

The card is automatically available for use for Uber rides and UberEats purchases and a physical card will show up in the mail within a week or so.

The no-fee card offers a bonus of $100 after spending $500 on purchases within the first 90 days, and has other perks, like 4% back on restaurants, take-out and bar purchases; 3% back on airfare, hotels and Airbnb or other short-stay rentals; 2% back on online purchases; and 1% back on everything else. 

The app’s integration within Uber looks beautiful, and it’s a clever way to capture all that valuable data… If you’ve already given up on the notion that data is any way private or not a commodity, then the card is probably not a bad bet… the perks seem good.

Source: Tech Crunch 

Why It’s Hot

Because, data and customer experience. The implications for what data Uber can now have on their customers is immense, and it will be interesting to see how they innovate to turn that into more personalized service for their customers.

 

Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism

Stephanie Zerwas, the clinical director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, was trying to find a restaurant in Orlando, Fla., last weekend, so she put the address into Google Maps for directions.

She was baffled to see a new feature: The iPhone app told her that walking instead of driving would burn 70 calories. While it was perhaps meant as an incentive to walk, those with eating disorders might instead fixate on the number, a dangerous mind-set that counselors try to minimize, she said.

“We’ve gotten into this habit of thinking about our bodies and the foods we take in and how much activity we do as this mathematical equation, and it’s really not,” she said. “The more we have technology that promotes that view, the more people who may develop eating disorders might be triggered into that pathway.”

On Monday night, Google pulled the feature, which it said was an experiment on its iOS app. The decision followed a wave of attention on social media; while some of the responses saw Google’s feature as promoting exercise, there were several complaints that it was dangerous or insulting.

Some users were especially upset that the app used mini cupcakes to put the burned calories into perspective, framing food as a reward for exercise, or exercise as a prerequisite for food. (One mini cupcake, it said, was worth a little less than 125 calories, but no information was provided about how that calculation was made.)

Calorie counting has long been a contentious topic at the nexus of nutrition, exercise and eating disorders. In New York, among other cities, some restaurants are required to post calorie numbers on their menus and displays, an effort the Trump administration is trying to overturn. The Affordable Care Act required some national restaurants to do the same, though the Food and Drug Administration repeatedly delayed the deadline.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot: Interesting example of brands adjusting strategy based on social media feedback. What was probably considered a useful, helpful feature by developers was clearly not well received by customers.

Mayor to review 1,000 Amazon products in bid for company’s new HQ

It’s been about a month since Amazon announced it was accepting bids from US cities to host its second major headquarters. A city that comes away with a new Amazon campus could potentially see a significant economy boost, so competition will certainly be fierce. And with the deadline for cities to submit their proposals exactly one week away, Kansas City, Missouri has emerged as perhaps the city with the most creative strategy. As noted by VentureBeatKansas City mayor Sly James purchased 1,000 products from Amazon for charity and is reviewing every single one — and the reviews very quickly pivot into why his city would be a great place for the company’s new HQ.

James explained his plan with a few videos on Twitter and also set up a URL that lets interested parties (like Amazon) see everything he’s reviewed. Products run the gamut from 22-inch wind chimes priced at only $14.99 (“I live in beautiful Kansas City where the average home price is just $122K, so I know luxe living doesn’t have to cost a ton”) to the classic kids story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (“Alexander had a really bad day, but here in KC, we’re ranked as one of the 20 happiest cities to work in right now…”). You get the idea.

Video here

Site here

James just kicked the program off earlier this week, but he already has posted dozens of reviews — though a read through his entertaining Twitter feed makes it sound as if he’s not actually doing all the posting himself. But there’s little doubt this goofy but heartfelt venture is driving some positive buzz for Kansas City. Whether or not that’ll make a difference in the bidding process remains to be seen, but the city does meet enough of Amazon’s criteria that it should be in the running.

Source: Engadget

Why it’s Hot:

Going all out for your city’s economic growth means more than formal pitches, apparently. Taking to social to find humorous and creative ways to stand out is a solid idea — let’s see how it pans out for KC’s chances!

 

Walmart Puts Its Eggs in a Time-Saving Basket: Grocery Pickup

In today’s installment of the the ongoing food/convenience/price/partnership saga…

Seeking an edge against Amazon, Walmart is pushing a service that delivers your order to your car. Customers never have to step inside the store.

A personal shopper is something you might expect at Bergdorf Goodman or a boutique on Madison Avenue.

Not at the Walmart on Route 42 in Turnersville, N.J.

But that’s where you will find Joann Joseph and a team of Walmart workers each day, filling up shopping carts with boxes of Honeycomb cereal, Cheez-Its and salted peanuts.

The customers select their groceries online, and then the shoppers pick the items off the store shelves and deliver them to people when they arrive in the parking lot. Customers never have to step inside the store.

“It’s about saving people time,” Ms. Joseph said as she helped load groceries into the back of a minivan one morning.

Walmart, which is one of the largest food retailers in the United States, sees grocery pickup as a way to marry its e-commerce business with its gigantic network of stores — a goal that has eluded many other retailers. The company started ramping up the service two years ago, and it is now available in about 1,000 of Walmart’s 4,699 stores across the country.

The initiative is the latest salvo in Walmart’s retail battle with Amazon, and the centerpiece of its strategy to gain the upper hand in the pursuit of consumers looking to streamline their food shopping.

Many retailers are focused on new ways to deliver groceries to people’s homes — particularly in big cities. Walmart is betting big on the millions of Americans in suburban and rural areas who drive everywhere. The company is trying to make ordering groceries online and then picking them up in your car as seamless as a fast-food drive-through.

Amid this heated competition, Walmart has been experimenting with different ways to get an edge. In a few cities, it works with Uber to deliver groceries to homes.

And last month, Walmart said it would begin testing a home-delivery service in which a worker loads the food into the refrigerator, even when no one is home. The customer can watch the process remotely from a home security camera and track when the delivery worker enters and leaves the house.

While these initiatives are limited to only a few states, the company’s grocery pickup is widespread. Walmart is betting that a big part of the country (“from Scranton to Sacramento,” one Walmart executive said) is more of a drive-through than delivery culture.

Source (and interesting longer article): NY Times

Why It’s Hot

This is business-model interesting! There is a lot going on in the grocery industry to deliver on customer demand for convenience. Walmart, as king of retail, needs to innovate while ensuring that they can maintain their fundamental model and prices. Fresh Direct, then UberEATs then Amazon + Whole Foods — create interesting pressures. Will Walmart stay ahead?

Uber adds a new feature for riders that teaches basic sign language

Uber has added a new feature to its app this month to support its deaf and hard of hearing drivers, a group the company says number in the thousands across its service. Uber says that these drivers have together completed millions of trips, and while it has added a number of features to its app over the years to provide additional support for those with hearing impairments, it’s going a step further with a new feature launching at the end of Deaf Awareness Month, which takes place in September.

The new feature will surface a card in the feed of the rider app when they’re paired up with a driver who is deaf or hard of hearing that will give them an option to learn some basic words and phrases in American Sign Language (ASL). The rider can select basic greeting like “Hello” and “Thank you,” or learn the letters to spell out their name so they can confirm it to the driver.

It’s a small thing, but a handy tool that could build on top of what Uber already does in-app for its hearing impaired drivers.

Check out the site here

Source: Tech Crunch

Why it’s Hot

Uber is fighting to show some goodness — Lyft launched a new campaign and has been taking on partnership like Uber used to do. This is a positive approach and potentially rather useful and engaging.

Williams Sonoma Will Soon Accept Payment Through Venmo

Home goods company Williams Sonoma will start accepting Venmo, the app that users link to their bank account or credit card in order to send money to their friends and family, as a form of payment for items on bridal registries.

Williams Sonoma hopes the new program will help the company appeal to a younger customer base that is accustomed to using the digital wallet service to pay back friends for expenses or easily split costs.

The retailer plans to begin accepting Venmo at all of its locations in early 2018.

Source: PSFK

Why it’s Hot: There’s been a lot of talk about brick and mortar’s survival in the digital age, but perhaps the key to adapting is to digitize payments and meet customers where they are.